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Settler Kaponga 1881–1914 — A Frontier Fragment of the Western World

Other Shops and Workshops

Other Shops and Workshops

Wise's Post Office Directory, which appeared biannually through the 1890s, lists nearly 30 folk trying their hands at running shops or workshops in Kaponga during the decade. A handful of further names appears in the Star's columns. Quite a number of ventures were ephemeral and others changed hands quickly, so that about two-thirds of the names appear in only one edition of Wise's. Some started as branches of businesses in the neighbouring townships, at first mainly of Manaia, but later with Eltham edging out Manaia. Like the stores, the shops and workshops were at first concerned page 151 with the settlers' most basic needs and then expanded steadily into less essential items and on to luxuries as the district prospered. This little world offered a growing range of possibilities to the resourceful jack of all trades. The overall picture is of small entrepreneurs probing the possibilities of a community ‘on the make’; some getting it right and quickly flourishing, a few toughing it out in borderline projects, others quite quickly revising their judgment and moving on to other places or other ventures. Table 5.1 summarises the data from our two sources. We will have lost some through the wide meshes of Wise's biannual publication, though the Star has picked up one or two of these. Several of those listed may have been employees rather than principals, and one or two (e.g. of the butchers) may have hawked their goods rather than opened a shop. It will be seen that the basic services of butcher and blacksmith account for about half of the ventures.

With many farmers killing for their own needs, butchering skills were widely spread, and the number of these ventures must be largely a result of their moving into the trade in an opportunistic way. Kaponga's first two butchers came from Manaia. Andrew John Hastie (c. 1863–1958, known as John) had had a varied youth in the Waikato and Auckland. His father, Andrew Hastie, was a Waikato and Bay of Plenty pioneer who had had large farming interests in various districts before coming with his family in 1881 to take up large holdings on the Waimate Plains. With Hastie senior in Scotland purchasing horses when the ‘Battle of Hastie's Farm’ took place in 1886, son John played a prominent part in that affair. 40 This Kaponga butchery venture was probably a short lived, opportunistic affair.

Walter Higginson must have been a member of the Manaia butchering family of that name, and again the venture was shortlived. Thomas Exley, who in due course established himself as the township's main butcher of the 1890s, continued farming alongside his slaughtering activities. He was prominent in Kaponga social life, especially horse racing and dancing. In 1897 he unsuccessfully took W.J. Barleyman to court for slander over accusations that he had sold diseased meat. In August 1898 he sold out to Nairn and left Kaponga.41 Captain George Calvert (c. 1841–1930) was a master mariner obviously looking for an occupation on retiring from the sea.42

The fortunes of the blacksmiths and wheelwrights were closely intertwined with the progress of factory dairying. Once it took off there was a growing traffic of horses and wagons making daily rounds between farms and creameries and factories. As they prospered the settlers began hitching their horses to something more respectable than a milk wagon for their social excursions. The take-off was slow at first. ‘Our Own’ reported on 5 July 1895 that ‘We had two smithies a short time ago; one had to close; now another opens.’ Naismith seems to have gained a dominant position, forcing Wilkie out just before things really took off. In mid-1895 John Judson came from Opunake and took over Naismith's wheelwright section as Kaponga's first well-qualified wheelwright. (While Wise's lists John

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Entries in Wise's Post Office Directories (plus Star data in italics)
'90–1 '92–3 '94–5 '96–7 '98–9 Hawera Star information
Hastie, John x [probably sold to Exley]
Higginson, Walter X
Exley, Thomas X X S X [on same site as Hastie]
Dagnell, Thomas X
Vine, Ellis X
Watts, Alfred L. X
Calvert, George W. S X Sells out to Exley '96
Nairn, L. S Buys out Exley '98
Wilkie, Walter X X
Naismith, James S X X
Edwards, Robert X
Townsend, William X X
Roots, Henry X
Childs, Tom S X Kaponga Coach Factory’
MacClure, John S X
Semmens, Fredk. S X S Arrives '93, leaves '95
Hartnell, Geo. W. X X
Kappely, Kayton X
Yeaman, William X
Webley, William X X
Green, T., Manaia S
Robertson, John X X X
Judson, J. S S Buys Naismith's Wheelwright section
Kelland, George S X
Munro, John X
McKay, W.T. X page 153
Benjamin, Albert X
Wallace S
Hornby, R.W., Manaia S Sells to Baber, '97
Baber, H. S X
Gilbert, L.J., Eltbam S Opens April '97

Robertson as a wheelwright this seems to have been only a sideline of his building business.) In the Star of 2 May 1898 its ‘Travelling Reporter’ described Judson's carriage factory. He remarked that ‘On entering the painting and trimming shop one would fancy they were going into a carriage factory of a far more pretentious town than Kaponga.’ Among the number of vehicles receiving the finishing touches were ‘three fine double buggies, built to the order of settlers in the district’.

However, it was Tom Childs* who was to become Kaponga's leading coach-builder of the decade. Coming from a successful career as a blacksmith in Christchurch, in July 1895 he began advertising in the Star, under the heading ‘Kaponga Coach Factory’, that he had taken over ‘the above business opposite the Kaponga butchery’, was operating as a ‘Horseshoer and general blacksmith’ and that he made to order and repaired ‘all kinds of farming implements’. Whom he had bought from is not known. In September 1898 he advertised that he had purchased Judson's coach-building stock-in-trade. The continued expansion of his premises and the fine products that flowed from them were a continuing theme from ‘Our Own’:

Mr Childs informs me that he has turned out four spring drays this week, and another three will be completed next week, besides one buggy and two dogcarts…. Mr Childs has made extensive alterations in his establishment, and has also imported the latest machinery so as to expedite the work. (Star, 5/9/98)

Mr T. Childs has been making some extensive additions to his Kaponga carriage factory, having lengthened the main building by 30ft. Among the numerous vehicles in different stages of manufacture were three spring milk carts, and one express 13ft by 4ft 2 ½in in inside measurement of the body, built to carry 18 milk cans. (Star, 1/11/98)

Prime Minister Seddon was shown this 18-can vehicle at the factory on page 154 his surprise Sunday visit in November 1898. A few days later ‘Our Own’ remarked:

One would imagine to see the show of brakes, carts, traps, and buggies that Mr Childs had in front of his establishment on Friday last, that the Governor was coming. (Star, 1/12/98)

This pride in local vehicle craftsmanship continued into the following decade before fading before the onslaught of the northern hemisphere motor factories.

We will now look briefly at the remaining concerns. Clearly many of them were shortlived. Some came too soon and failed to make headway against the frugal lifestyle and self-help of settlers still getting on their feet. Others were in competition with the storekeepers and probably did not have the capital to upstage them. The bakers and fruiterer especially would have been up against settler self-help. George Kelland put up his fruit shop combined with a dwelling on the corner section opposite the hotel late in 1894. A Star item of 28 December 1894 referred to the building as ‘Mr G.T. Kelland's boarding house’, so he may have gone into his fruit scheme with doubts about its viability, and hence a second string to his bow. Within a year or two he cashed in on the strong rise in value of his corner section and moved on. Bootmakers and saddlers would have had to compete against strong opposition from the stores but could hope to win out by offering personal craftsmanship and repairs. Semmens was described as ‘bootmaker and importer’ when he opened his new shop and dwelling in March 1893. He left in April 1895, probably selling out to Hartnell, who by the end of the decade was flourishing, being ‘compelled to make extensive alterations to his establishment … owing to a large increase of business’.43 Of the saddlers, John Munro seems to have left no trace apart from the one reference in Wise's. Coming later, W.T. McKay flourished with the settlers' prosperity. Describing the saddlery on Christmas Eve ‘Our Own’ (29/12/ 98) told how he was

… fairly amazed at the glittering array of harness, buckles, stirrup irons, in all metals, and the thousand and one different assortment of bits. I may mention that Mr McKay has moved into his new and commodious premises …

The tinsmiths will have got much of their work from the dairy industry. When Wallace began business ‘Our Own’ (20/4/99) described him as a ‘general all-round plumber, tinsmith, and expert in dairy factory fittings’. In the late 1890s it was becoming clear that it was Eltham, not Manaia, that would cash in on Kaponga's prosperity, with chemist Baber of Eltham buying out Hornby of Manaia in 1897, watchmaker Gilbert of Eltham opening a Kaponga branch in April 1899, and C.A. Wilkinson taking over the store from Tindle in September 1899.44

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A Serviceable Bush Sledge. ‘A Serviceable Bush Sledge’. Illustration for one of the many hints for settlers published by the NZ Farmer

A Serviceable Bush Sledge.
‘A Serviceable Bush Sledge’. Illustration for one of the many hints for settlers published by the NZ Farmer

Two Kaponga workshops, c.1894. Frederick Semmens had this workshop and dwelling erected
in 1893. He has sublet to the Misses Young. Note the typical mode of transport of small-town
proprietors of this time. Semmens left Kaponga in 1895